The victory was a bittersweet one though as shortstop Chuck Jeroloman injured his back and his status remains questionable for the near future.
His injury along with an injury to Karl Amonite (elbow) have put the Tigers in a serious hole to open the 2004 season. Coach Steve Renfroe says that despite feeling good about how the team is playing so far, the injury situation is a big concern right now.
"It's not good," Renfroe said. "It's his back. He took a swing and he said it popped his back. You know how backs are. That could be no fun. I'm sure he's out for a while. Karl is out. He's hurting. We've already lost three starters (junior college transfer Tyler Johnstone) and haven't played but two games.
"We can't afford to do that. Early in the year when we had everybody it was pretty special. Then you lose Johnstone and we could make some adjustments. Then you lose Amonite and it exposes you to a lot of things. When Chuck is out of there we're really exposed. We'll just battle and see what happens."
Fighting cold and damp conditions Saturday, Hughey had one of his best outings ever in an Auburn uniform. With excellent control and movement on the ball, the junior put the Tigers on his back and earned the victory in his first outing. He gave up just three hits and no runs in six innings, striking out seven while walking none. Renfroe says he couldn't have asked for anything more out of Hughey.
"That's as good of a first outing as you can expect from anybody," Renfroe says. "The thing that was really pleasing is that he was very aggressive and went to some pitches that he wanted to. He didn't just throw every pitch called, he called his game, had a plan and was very aggressive. That's what I like. He got a little tired and yet he came back and got better. That's a mental thing. That's what's so much better about Arnie this year. Mentally he's taken that step."
Arnold Hughey sporting Auburn's new pinstripe uniforms resembling the New York Yankees.
Early on Saturday's game was a battle of top-notch pitchers as Hughey and WCU's Derrick Hawk dueled each other to see who could be the most dominant. With both teams scoreless through three innings things were looking good for fans wanting a quick game on this cold day. Following another scoreless half-inning by Hughey in the fourth the Tigers finally got to Hawk in the bottom of the inning.
Lead-off man Ben Maitland, who started the day at third, but moved to shortstop when Jeroloman left the game, singled to left field to open the inning. Executing a hit-and-run, Clete Thomas ground out to second base to move Maitland into scoring position for Tug Hulett. After fouling off three pitches with two strikes, Hulett earned a walk to bring Bell to the plate.
Injured late in the season in 2003 with a fractured thumb, Bell has been on the road to recovery and he took a big step towards that with one swing on Saturday. Sitting on the first pitch, he drove a breaking ball deep over the center field wall for a home run to give the Tigers a 3–0 lead. Bell says that it was a big relief to get that first home run out of the way after what he's gone through to get back to this point.
"I'm feeling really good, but I'm really upset that I didn't have that goose-egg up on the board (mistakes behind the plate)," Bell says. "I'm really working hard on that, but it feels good. There was a period for a couple of months when I really couldn't do anything. I'm glad I was able to help contribute to the win today."
Josh Bell blasts Auburn's first home run of the season.
With the lead Hughey had to avoid some major trouble in the fifth to keep his scoreless day alive. Catcher Denver Edick led off the inning with a bloop single to center field and third baseman Chris Davis followed with a blooper of his own just in front of Thomas. With runners on first and second Hughey attempted a pick-off move at second, but a low throw bounced into center field to put runners on the corners with still nobody out.
Bowing his back, Hughey first got right fielder Alex Gary to pop out to first baseman Mike Felix. With one out left fielder Chad McKown went down swinging on a nasty slider from the junior lefty. That brought designated hitter Brian Sigmon to the plate. Working the count, Sigmon drilled one almost to the wall in right field, but Auburn's Derek Sain had him played perfectly and caught the ball for the third out of the inning.
Auburn added to its lead in the bottom of the inning thanks to some heads-up baseball by a newcomer to the Tiger roster. With two outs and nobody on base former football signee Bruce Edwards drew a walk and quickly stole second to give the Tigers a runner in scoring position. That's all that Maitland needed. A quick study to Division I baseball, the junior college transfer hitting from the left side hit a liner over the shortstop to easily score Edwards for second base. Leading 4-0 on a cold, brisk day, the Tigers turned the game over to the bullpen in the seventh after another scoreless inning from Hughey to close out the sixth.
"I think I was excited to be facing somebody other than our team every day," Hughey said. "I felt good today and had pretty good control of everything I thought. The new arm slot is a little different for me, but I'm getting pretty comfortable with it. I think I'm pitching a lot better now. I have basically learned how to pitch in the last year. I was just real happy with my performance today."
True freshman Jared Shore came on in the seventh and, after getting the first batter, gave up a double to Gary. After a wild pitch moved him to third, a sacrifice fly to center field scored the speedy Gary with the first run of the game. That was all for Shore as reliever Cory Dueitt came on and gunned down the Catamounts the rest of the way to earn his first save of the year. Pitching 2 1/3 innings, Dueitt didn't allow a baserunner while striking out two.
"Steven (Register) wasn't definitely down for the day, but we weren't going to use him unless we really needed to," Dueitt said. "I really wanted to go out there and finish it off that way we'll have him for tomorrow. It's a big win. If we get starts like that from our rotation it's going to make us tough to beat. We are finding some guys down there in the bullpen that can pitch a little. Once we get things going it's going to help us out big time."
The Tigers go for the sweep on Sunday when they send senior Colby Paxton to the mound to face Western Carolina. Game time for the contest is scheduled for 1:30.